Monday, September 21, 2009

Early Season

It would have been a fine morning to be on the lake fishing. It was still and sunny; lower 50 degrees with the promise of a warm day ahead. Or perhaps an off-road ride on the mountain bike over ski trails devoid of deer flies and mosquitoes in the morning chill. There’s even a small pile of birch outside my woodshed that would find benefit being split and stacked. But grouse season opened and I was thinking of little else.

My setters have been antsy and anxious for the last week or so. Ty can tell what time of year it is without a calendar and I think Jack gets his info from Ty. At eight years old Ty isn’t as spry as he used to be, but when I came from the house with my bird hunting vest, old orange-topped McAlister hat and a gun in my hand he was into the back of the truck before I could drop the tailgate! We’d been finding birds regularly during summer recon outings and I believe he was as expectant as I was.

Early season grouse hunting. The papers, magazines, and radio have been telling anyone and everyone that this is the year to be hunting in Minnesota. Still, they usually advise waiting until things cool off a bit and some of the leaves turn color and fall from the branches. That’s good advice, but when you spend as much of your life as I do watching, worrying, listening, and searching for grouse there is no waiting when the season opens. I know that the heat and the bugs will drive us from the woods in short order, so there’s no need to carry lunch – it’s hit the covers early, carry water for the dogs and come out sweating and hopefully smiling.

We were in a favorite cover for five minutes when Ty pointed the first grouse of the season. I found him at the bottom of an aspen hill along a run of alders, a good looking spot for birds. He was facing me when I saw him which is always a good situation. The grouse was pinned between us and it exploded up and back over Ty, turning left and disappearing at my hasty shot. I caught a glimpse of it as it topped the trees and continued on, unhurt. It’s no matter that I missed that shot; I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And I was smiling.

I suppose the weekend highlight was when I turned Ty loose the second morning and he ran about 30 feet from the truck and locked on point. I didn’t even have my gun out yet. I quickly dropped a couple of shells in the chambers and marched to him. A brood of young grouse lifted before him and about six birds went in all directions. One of the luckless ones tried flying through a tiny opening and my barrels caught up and it fell in a heap.
Ty remained steady to shot (I still wonder the wisdom of that) and when I sent him for the retrieve he overshot the area and ran on to point another one. I was able to kill this one going away and after Ty’s quick retrieve we went back to find the first. All the while poor Jack witnessed the episode from the truck and he yowled his angst at missing out on the action. Ty and I were never more than 50 yards from the truck. I believe we could have hounded the rest of the birds and perhaps decimated the brood but I chose against it so after some photos we left to hunt a different cover.

I hunted Ty and Jack each morning of the weekend. The dogs had to be watched closely for heat related troubles and I offered water often from the bottle in my vest. Even when the temps read fairly cool, it seemed stifling in the woods and when I stopped walking my shooting glasses would fog and sweat would run down into my eyes. Each setter pointed early season grouse and I had shots at some. My old shotgun was at home in my hands, my boots comfortable, and my hunting hat felt just right. It’s not the best hunting just yet, it’s too early. But the Red Gods were kind and I’m thankful for the hunt and last evenings grouse dinner.